On writing: Six top tips for getting started

The blank page can be intimidating for an aspiring fiction writer, but anyone can write creatively, says Andrew Salomon, award-winning author and creative writing tutor at SA Writers College.

1 Write about what you care about
The well-worn adage of ‘Write what you know’ is limiting and not very useful. It’s more helpful to write about something you care about. This can be anything that resonates with you, such as a sport, a cause, a particular job, place or experience. This way, you free yourself to write about something that you may not necessarily be an expert on, but by caring about what you write, you ensure that you will make an effort to get the content of your story right.

2 Read with a ‘writer’s eye’
If you feel the desire to write a story, the chances are good that you also love reading them. This means you have a free pass to reread stories you have loved, while paying close attention to the author’s techniques to make a story memorable. You’ll be surprised how quickly your ‘writer’s eye’ starts picking up on style elements such as how dialogue and action have been woven together, or how a particular narrative point of view benefits the story.

3 Make your opening sentence and first paragraph earn their keep
Your opening sentence and first paragraph are what will hook your reader into your story. So go ahead and have them work extra hard through mystery and intrigue to spark curiosity in your reader, along with a sense that the time they invest in reading your story will be rewarded.

4 Get the reader to care about your characters through their words and actions
In storytelling, descriptions of what drives a character and how they feel about things get boring very quickly. Instead of long-winded descriptions, use a character’s actions and dialogue to show what they care about and how events and other characters affect them. Getting to know your characters in this way allows the reader to empathise with and root for them.

5 Distinctive dialogue
Look at your favourite books and movies and notice how each character talks in a distinctive way. Since no two characters are the same, a believable story will feature characters that express themselves uniquely. This is an essential writing skill that gets sharpened over time.

6 Finish the first draft first
Revising and polishing your work is an essential part of the fiction writing process, but editing an unfinished story can feed procrastination. Avoid this subtle trap by finishing the initial draft of your story first, and only then start with revision. And if that initial draft is so rough that you would feel embarrassed to show it to anyone, welcome to the club; nobody’s first draft is a great work of literature. The biggest priority for an aspiring fiction writer is first to wrestle that story from your mind to the page. Everything else follows from there. andrewsalomon.com

The Equilibrist is out now.

This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine from Penguin Random House South Africa. 

Categories Fiction South Africa

Tags Andrew Salomon Penguin Random House SA The Equilibrist Writing Writing Advice Writing Tips

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